Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Work (it)

There are oodles of French expat websites listing jobs compatible for somewhat bilingual foreigner-type people like me, and several times a week I poke around at the classified ads to see if there's anything that looks particularly well-suited to me or Jeff. I'm partial to FUSAC, since we had such good luck finding everything from Christmas ornaments to an apartment on this site, but I've also recently discovered Bonjour Paris, which is where I found a job that I thought would be perfect for Jeff. Turns out I was right!

The advertisement called for a bilingual bike tour guide/mechanic to lead (mostly) North American tourists on a trip that parallels the Tour de France. Jeff had all the necessary skills and experience, though he's not exactly what you'd call "fluent" in French. I helped him write a truthful-but-persuasive cover letter, and after two interviews, he got the good news directly from the tour-company owner that he'd been hired. Hooray for Jeff! It's only a temporary assignment, but it's nice that Jeff gets a working holiday doing something he's passionate about, and who knows? The experience could lead to something more lasting.

Between working for friends Billy and Jill on a WorldFest-related project, doing a bit of freelance PR stuff for Allison's Gourmet, and trying to survive the school semester, I've managed to squeeze in a little bit of extracurricular fun. Last night I braved the rain to join Anthony for opening night of mutual friend and former Nevada City-er D'Arcy Drollinger's new play, Scalpel! Back in August I'd gone to the Brava Theater to see the very first live read-through, and never imagined the finished product would come to life in such an amazing way. The music, set design, "special" effects, hair and makeup were each awe-inspiring. Campy and fun. Hurry and see it before it closes on April 17!

I met so many interesting, talented, inspiring people last night, but above all, I enjoyed getting to know Frank S., who juggles work as both a curator at SFMOMA and as a college literature professor. Funny, nice, and totally brilliant, Frank shared some very thoughtful advice about making the most of grad school (before getting his Ph.D, he did an MA in English Lit, too), and even offered up some networking connections in France. Thanks, Anthony, for the introduction, and for having such lovely friends!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lucky Pierre

I finally received a letter from SFSU's creative writing department; I'd applied to their MA program back in December, hoping to transfer from English Lit into something better aligned with my primary interest, which has always been writing (rather than reading, as it turns out).

I've decided not to open this particular piece of correspondence, however; my future has been decided, and as it turns out, it doesn't include finishing up any MA degree at SFSU. If I was accepted, well, that'll be sad, since I'm moving in a few short months, and if I didn't get in, well, that's a sad little story of its own, for all sorts of obvious reasons.

For now, it's all about focus: focus on finishing out this semester, on solidifying plans, spending time with loved ones, and on manifesting something meaningful--something that makes life worth living.

A week or two ago, in my 20th Century American Poetry class, we read an essay by Frank O'Hara, a mid-century poet whose work I really love, especially for its humor, which is sometimes very, very dark. In this essay, "Personism: A Manifesto," I learned a new euphemism: "Lucky Pierre." I'd never heard it before, but it's a fun way to say "menage a trois."

Rarely do I have the opportunity to squeeze menage-a-anything into everyday conversation, but the idea came up again when we heard back from Simon, our former landlord in Paris.

He is, in fact, using our one-time dwelling as his office, and has offered the place up to us over the summer if we need a short-term rental. He also let us know that Pamela's piece in Marie Claire about their "Lucky Pierre" experience might actually be made into a film. He figures Kermit the Frog is the best bet to play him on the big screen. (I'll cast my vote for George Clooney, if they try to Americanize it, or Clive Owen if they go English.)

Yesterday we met with Eli and Tracy, who we were introduced to by Lynn, my former boss at The SF/SPCA. They're looking to move out of their moldy place in the Outer Sunset and closer to Berkeley, where they'll soon be opening their chocolate factory. (They make the most amazing chocolate bars under the name "Bisou," which means "kiss" en francais; these bars are fair-trade, vegan, made with just three ingredients, and totally delish.)

It looks like E & T will be subletting for at least the first year we're gone, while we figure out if our move will be permanent. We weren't really sure whether or not we wanted to go the sublet route, but they plied us with chocolate, and we're weak like that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hooray for Healthcare!

Not too many people know this, but five years ago when we were conducting our first living-in-France experiment, Jeff and I decided we'd give parenthood a go. It was part biological clock, part romanticism; have you ever seen French children? They're the cutest things ever, AND they're well-behaved. I wanted to be part of that. Jeff ... well, not so much, but he agreed to give it a try. Close to the end of my first trimester, we decided to tell our families, and many joyous long-distance phone-calls were made. About a week later, I had a miscarriage. Big bummer.

I hadn't planned to go to the hospital--I thought it could wait 'til morning when I'd visit my private doc--but after describing the symptoms to my belle soeur Nathalie, who lives in Paris and is a medical professional, she suggested we meet at Hopital St. Antoine, a public hospital just two blocks from our place.

We three arrived at about 10 0'clock at night and went straight to the emergency room. There might have been one other person waiting there, but the doctors saw me almost immediately. After a thorough exam, they confirmed the bad news, and suggested I stay overnight. I told them I lived nearby and that I'd prefer to come back the next day. They said "pas de probleme" and made an appointment for me to return the following morning.

When I arrived, they ushered me into a private room, tucked me into bed, and gave me some medication and an IV. I was there for the better part of the day, and throughout my time there, someone or another would come in to make sure I was OK, bring me water, and generally extend a bit of kindness in my direction. After my experience at General Hospital in San Francisco the year before, my stay at Hopital St. Antoine seemed positively magical. When I checked out, they promised to send me a bill, but forewarned that because I didn't have insurance, it was going to be pretty expensive. Very, very expensive. They were sorry. I was worried. When the bill arrived two days later, I was indeed shocked at the amount: 88 Euro.

I don't know if the health care reform bill Obama just signed into law will translate into hospital bills that are truly affordable for Americans, but even if it's just a symbolic gesture to prove he's serious about making change while he's in office, it's a step in the right direction. Hopefully, though, neither I nor anyone reading this will have any reason to experience the newly revamped American medical system (or the old French one, for that matter) any time soon.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Full Circle

The call from the French consulate came yesterday around 2:00 pm: my Competénces and Talents proposal was approved. Two three-year working visas coming right up!

When Scott came to pick me up around 5:30 to go to the opening of his friends Rob and Amy's boutique in the Marina, I was definitely ready for a glass of Champagne. Thankfully there was an endless supply flowing at Conifer, where we met up with several other of Scott's friends, including Wendy from the band TITS (Technicolor Inner Trol Syndrome; no, I don't know what that means, either).

We three talked grad school--Wendy just got accepted into the music composition program at Mills--and I discovered she did her undergrad at SFSU in the creative writing department. With no mention of Paris at all, she said her favorite class ever was an English seminar on expatriate writers in Paris during the 1920s. Damn, how I wish that class had been offered this semester! She's going to dig up her syllabus if I can't get it directly from the professor, Loretta Stec. It fits in with one of the tourism-related business plans I've got up my sleeve.

Around 7:00 we took off in the direction of the De Young Museum, where we'd planned to see rockabilly band Red Meat. We arrived just as the band hit the stage, and I was surprised to see how many cowboy hats there were bobbing about in the crowd. (I didn't know what kind of music the band played at this point; I'd only been told the singer's name was "Smelly Kelly," and thus assumed it would be punk.) Surveying the sea of hatted heads, I turned to my left and standing beside me was Ethan, whom I'd not seen since May of 2004--in Paris. The strangeness of it all!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

La Petite Triomphe

Under very few circumstances would it ever seem appropriate to spend nearly $20 on a glass of Champagne or $7 on a cornet of very mediocre fries, but yesterday's quasi-success at the French consulate necessitated some irrational celebratory gesture, and so frites et bubbly it was.

Cafe de la Presse is just a one-minute walk from the French consulate, and if you keep your eyes pointed toward the cafe's tables and chairs, you might think for a minute that you're actually in Paris. We find out in a week's time whether or not we'll be getting an authentic experience, complete with better fries and cheaper wine. Some vegan aioli would be nice, too.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tokyo or Bust

Even when it's not Saturday night and the mariachi bands aren't aye-yay-yay-yaying in full swing, Puerto Alegre is noisy as all get-out. So is Lower-Haight beer*-swilling utopia Toronado. I think Chris decided to split his bon voyage party between the two places so he could show off his "teacher's voice." (It's booming.)

Chris, who earned his TESOL MA at SFSU (where I'm slogging through the English Literature MA program), has been teaching English as a second language at the Academy of Art for what seems like a really long time now, but he's leaving Thursday for Tokyo, where he'll teach 10 1.5 hour classes each week to students at a private university. He's got a one-year contract, a subsidized studio apartment, and a mile-long line of friends waiting to stay with him once he gets settled. Sounds good to me!

While Chris preps for Japan, I'm prepping for my visit to the French consulate tomorrow afternoon. It'll be the first big powwow (is "powwow" totally un-PC? And do I care if it is?) with the men and women who will, ultimately, decide whether my future includes another stint in Europe. I'm so exhausted from all the paperwork that I don't even care whether they accept my proposal or not.**

* After some sleuthing, I discovered that there is some truth to the Duvel/right-wing conspiracy theory; turns out that a Duvel logo found its way onto an anti-immigration flyer put out by racist Belgian political party Vlaams Belang, but this rebuttal (en francais) by the Duvel peeps denies support of VB, saying, essentially, that it's a harmful rumor and that they don't align themselves with any political party. Hmmm ...

** it's probably just the exhaustion speaking. But maybe not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Girl From Ipanema Empanada Enchilada

We went to an event in the Mission on Monday night, and, as usual, left the house late and thus didn't have time to grab a burrito beforehand. We arrived at the venue just in time, grabbed a couple of chairs, then a couple of beers (didn't some famous literary type once say "beer is food"? Um, no.), and settled in for the entertainment portion of the evening.

The MC got up on stage and announced that the Girl From Empanada was in the house, and I couldn't help but love her for her clever name, but fell even deeper in love when I overheard her saying she had homemade vegan empanadas in addition to all the non-veg varieties. Stoked. We got two for a tenner, and they were delicious. It was too dark to see what was going on inside, but I tasted olives and raisins and other non-meaty things. Yum.

I had singer/animal advocate Astrud Gilberto's "The Girl from Ipanema" stuck in my head last night as I prepped dinner for our guests, Scott and Jenn. Enchiladas were on the menu again, so the song morphed into "The Girl from Enchilada." We didn't do an exact replica of our last dinner-party meal; this time we had fried plantains, black beans, and homemade vegan sour cream to accompany the main course. I'm still full. We won't be having enchiladas again for a long, long time.

All that food and drink activated our chatting mechanisms to the nth degree. Conversation zoomed from Scott and Jenn's recent trip to "Uncle Gary's" pad in Nevada City to Jenn's upcoming trip to Ireland, then careened over to eviction notices and alternate modes of housing, before zipping over to the FIFA World Cup games in South Africa and the recent opening of S & J's friends' new beer joint near Encuentro and Souley Vegan in Oakland's Jack London Square. This was about the time Scott shattered my world with the news that the family behind that finest of Belgian exports, Duvel (aka my favorite beer), are militant right-wingers who oppose nearly everything I hold dear. I'll have to investigate that; I'm just not ready to bid Duvel adieu quite yet.

Before saying nightnight to Scott and Jenn, we were able to fob off a few no-longer-needed-because-we're-moving items, including books and some ancient cassette tapes. There's lots more where that came from, so if you need anything (books, shoes, purses, plants, sunglasses, that sort of thing), holler.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Franco-Mexican Relations

In an attempt to break our long spell of social hibernation and reconnect with friends we've not seen in a while, we invited Jeorgina and Jeff C. over for dinner last night. We hadn't seen them since November, when they treated us to a lovely homemade meal at their apartment on the other side of Alamo Square.

The menu was Mexican: Jeff R. made the soup and enchiladas (he's really perfected his recipe, and the secret is the green sauce, I think), I made the salsa and salad, and Double Rainbow made the chocolate sorbet. As we sat around the table eating, drinking, and being merry, conversation drifted from surfing (Jeff C. had a early-morning Sunday surf date in Santa Cruz) and tortillas (Jeorgina's grandma in Mexico is the town tortilla maker) to the way time flies (we realized J & J hadn't been to our apartment since our 2004 bon-voyage party) and plans for the future ("What's Jeff going to do in France?!").

Jeff proposed importing tortillas to France (there's definitely a deficiency of all things Latin American in Paris), and Jeorgina suggested maybe Jeff could vend them from a food cart, like the Sri Lankan fellows who sell roasted corn and chestnuts out of shopping carts on the streets of Paris. I followed that line of thinking to the masala dosa cart in Manhattan that I've heard so much about and would like very much to visit before we move, or, at least, before I die. God, I love masala dosas.

Before Jeff and Jeorgina left, we made sure to invite them to join us for the Easter weekend overnight bike-and-camp trip to Angel Island we have planned with mutual friends Adam and Cheryl. They've lived here nearly as long as we have and have never visited this awesome state park. It's about time, kiddos!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Future is DIY

Yesterday I got a note from Owen, who lives in Toulouse and has a cool website for wanna-be frenchies like me called France Tales. We met him last summer at a party at Jeff's boss's place, and we've kept in touch since.

Owen relayed a bit of bad news (he and his lovely boyfriend recently broke up), and shared some sage advice about working in France: "Do it yourself or don't do it at all." In other words, work isn't easy to come by--even if you've landed yourself a fancy-schmancy work visa--and it's best to have your own gig going if you want to avoid ending up in one of those red-and-black tents that social-justice organization Les Enfants de Don Quichotte provides for the homeless in Paris.

My employment plan is definitely DIY, but Jeff's, well, we're not sure what his is just yet, though part of the long-term plan includes leading bicycle tours throughout Europe. Jeff just brought home the newest edition of Lonely Planet's Cycling France, and my hope is he'll study it, get motivated, and start plotting a course of action.

In any case, the worst-case scenario isn't so bad. I can definitely think of worse things than camping in Paris.

Monday, March 1, 2010

File Under "Looks Bad, Tastes Pretty Good"

We polished off -- OK, no, make that I polished off -- the not-nearly-big-enough jar of vegan Nutella procured from a booth at the Paris Vegan Day event this past November, so when jonesing for chocolate today, I had to resort to the backup spread we found in a natural food store in the Pyrenées: EverNat.

It's not nearly as delish as Chocolinette -- probably because it's missing the vital hazelnut -- and lacks a certain (dare I say it?) creaminess, but hey, it fixed that chocolate craving. Mission accomplished.